Three attorneys representing Lisa Montgomery, who is set to be executed by the U.S. government on January 12, released on Tuesday a petition for her clemency after sending the document to President Donald Trump.
"This crime did not have to happen. It could have been prevented if one person had gotten Lisa help. This execution does not have to happen. You can stop it."
—Legal team for Lisa Montgomery
Montgomery has been joined by child advocates, anti-domestic violence organizations, dozens of prosecutors, and more than 140,000 people who have signed a MoveOn.org petition in recent months in asking the president to commute her death sentence to life without parole—citing Montgomery's lifetime of abuse prior to the murder she committed in 2004 and the mental illness she suffered as a result of rape and trauma throughout her childhood.
Montgomery was convicted in 2007 of murdering Bobbie Jo Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant, and abducting her unborn child. She pretended the baby was hers before being arrested.
Her attorneys maintain that Montgomery was experiencing psychosis and was not connected to reality when she committed the crime—a result of the dissociative disorder, bipolar disorder, and complex post-traumatic stress disorder which she has since been diagnosed with, stemming from years of abuse she suffered as a child.
— ACLU (@ACLU) January 5, 2021
The lawyers described the rape and forced prostitution Montgomery survived as well as physical abuse and a forced sterilization procedure as an adult.
"Lisa Montgomery developed into... a person who had profound disconnection from her body, from her mind, from her experience," Katherine Porterfield, a clinical psychologist at the Bellevue/New York University Program for Survivors of Torture, told HuffPost on Tuesday. "Those were disconnections that were tragic in their consequences. But they were what we come to understand as neuro-physiological adaptations to survive being constantly under assault."
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Montgomery reported the abuse when she was a teenager to a cousin who worked in law enforcement, but he did not intervene. Nor did a neighbor, social services workers, or school officials. In the petition for clemency, her attorneys called on Trump to correct this devastating pattern:
Had just one person intervened, all of this could have been avoided. But they did not. And so now you are faced with the awesome responsibility of deciding whether Lisa Montgomery lives or dies. You alone have the power to temper justice with mercy. You alone have the power to protect her children and grandchildren from more heartache and pain. You alone have the power to join the growing chorus to end the stigmatization of mental illness. You alone have the power to send a message to the thousands of women who have been the victim of childhood rape and trafficking that their pain matters—that they matter—that their lives have value. You alone write the ending to this story—does it end with more pain? Or does it end with hope, mercy, and understanding?
Montgomery is one of three people who Trump plans to execute before he leaves office on January 20, as part of what The Guardian called an "execution spree." Since losing the presidential election on November 3, Trump has executed three people—Orlando Hall, Brandon Bernard, and Alfred Bourgeois. Before President-elect Joe Biden, a death penalty opponent, is sworn in, Trump plans to execute Dustin Higgs and Corey Johnson in addition to Montgomery.
All the men Trump has subjected to the death penalty since November have been Black, and all have been the subject of calls by human rights advocates, prosecutors, and former jurors who have pleaded with the administration for clemency.
In addition to letters from prosecutors and advocates for abuse victims, Montgomery's attorneys included in her petition for clemency hundreds of pieces of evidence of the abuse she suffered and the failure of authority figures to protect her.
"This crime did not have to happen," they wrote to Trump. "It could have been prevented if one person had gotten Lisa help. This execution does not have to happen. You can stop it."